Egypt looks to monitor popular social media users

Internet users with at least 5,000 followers would be placed under the supervision of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Media Regulation. (Shutterstock)
Updated 02 July 2018
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Egypt looks to monitor popular social media users

CAIRO: Freedom of expression may shrink further in Egypt where lawmakers have approved the first reading of a bill that would monitor popular social media users in the name of combating “false news.”
Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have become one of the last forums for public debate in Egypt since a November 2013 ban on all but police-approved gatherings.
In Egypt, more than 500 websites have so far been blocked, according to the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE).
On June 10, parliament gave preliminary approval of the bill, pending a final reading and then ratification by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
Under the bill, Internet users with at least 5,000 followers would be placed under the supervision of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Media Regulation.
The council, known for its criticism of foreign media and television programs accused of violating public morals, would oversee “every personal website, blog or electronic account of any person with 5,000 followers or more.”
It would also have the right to suspend or block such accounts if they “publish or broadcast false news” or information inciting “breaking the law, violence or hatred.”
“Every citizen will think 1,000 times before they can write a post in which they criticize the action of the government or the regime,” said Mohamed Abdelsalam, director of research at AFTE.
He urged social media companies to “reject the practices of the Egyptian government and stand on the side of the rights (of citizens) and civil society organizations.”

Cyber-crime

In another move in early June, lawmakers passed a law on cyber-crime that allows authorities to block any website or account that threatens Egypt’s national security or economy.
Those who administer such websites face jail time or fines.
Domestic and international human rights groups regularly criticize violations of freedom of expression by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s government.
El-Sisi, then defense minister, led the military’s July 2013 ouster of Islamist president Muhammad Mursi after mass protests against his rule.
Following waves of arrests in the wake of Mursi’s ouster, authorities have also detained activists and bloggers on charges of “publishing false news.”
Wael Abbas, a blogger and journalist, and Shadi Ghazali Harb, a youth leader during the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak, are among those arrested.
Lawyer Gamal Eid who heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information told AFP: “The problem is that the prosecution does not elaborate on the nature of the false news in the accusations.”
Khaled Elbalshy, a former press syndicate board member, said the new bill was “a continuation of the context of repressing the press and confiscating and silencing speech.”
“It’s an attempt to silence everyone who tries to speak, extending this control even to social media users,” Elbalshy said.
Several prominent activists, contacted by AFP, declined to comment.
In its defense, parliament’s media committee head Osama Heikal said that “electronic accounts have widespread access, more than some newspapers.”
Egypt, which ranks 161st out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), was “not the first country to go in that direction.”


Netflix to roll out cheaper mobile-only plan for India

Updated 18 July 2019
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Netflix to roll out cheaper mobile-only plan for India

  • India is among the last big growth markets for the company
  • Netflix faces competition from Amazon’s Prime Video and Walt Disney Co’s Hotstar
Netflix said on Wednesday it would roll out a lower-priced mobile-only plan in India within the next three months to tap into a price-sensitive market at a time the streaming company is losing customers in its home turf.
India is among the last big growth markets for the company, where it faces competition from Amazon.com Inc’s Prime Video and Hotstar, a video streaming platform owned by Walt Disney Co’s India unit.
Netflix lost US streaming customers for the first time in eight years on Wednesday, when it posted quarterly results. It also missed targets for new subscribers overseas.
“India is a mobile-first nation, where many first-time users are experiencing the Internet on their phones. In such a scenario, a mobile-only package makes sense to target new users,” said Tarun Pathak, analyst at Counterpoint Research.
The creator of “Stranger Things” and “The Crown” said in March that it was testing a 250-rupee ($3.63) monthly subscription for mobile devices in India, where data plans are among the cheapest in the world.
The country figures prominently in Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings’ global expansion plans.
“We believe this plan, which will launch in the third quarter, will be an effective way to introduce a larger number of people in India to Netflix and to further expand our business,” the company said in a letter to investors released late on Wednesday.
Netflix currently offers three monthly plans in India, priced between 500 rupees ($7.27) and 800 rupees $11.63).
It has created a niche following in the country by launching local original shows like the thriller “Sacred Games” and dystopian tale “Leila,” which feature popular Bollywood actors.
The second season of “Sacred Games” is set to release in August.
In contrast, Hotstar, which also offers content from AT&T Inc’s HBO and also streams live sports, charges 299 rupees ($4.35) per month. Amazon bundles its video and music streaming services with its Prime membership.
“We’ve been seeing nice steady increases in engagement with our Indian viewers that we think we can keep building on. Growth in that country is a marathon, so we’re in it for the long haul,” Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said.